In 1992, Japan and India were celebrating 40 years of strong diplomatic ties. A part of the celebration was this project. Which was worked on by Japanese & Indian animation studios alike and based off of the Hindu epic, Ramayana.
I’ll be honest, I’m not super familiar with the epic. As such, I probably won’t notice if the film gets some details wrong. You’ll have to wait for the anime versions of The Iliad, Beowulf & Journey to the West to see me get into heavy scholarly detail about adaptation differences.
We open with a countryside being terrorised by demons. Or maybe they’re just British imperials in funny outfits. In any case, a Hindu holy man beseeches Vishnu for guidance. A golden light tells him to go to Ayodhya and bring Prince Rama who can defeat the imperial demons. He does as he asks and Prince Rama handily saves the countryside and finds himself a pretty young bride, Sita, during the journey. Everything is looking up for him until his father sends him into exile to keep a promise and his wife is kidnapped by the demon Ravan.
The biggest issue with the film’s narrative is that scenes don’t always flow smoothly. Take Sita’s abduction for example. We see Rama chasing a demon disguised as a golden deer. He seems to barely move out of sight when he shoots it. We then watch his brother, Lakshman, get fooled by the demon faking his voice. So, he pours holy… salt around Sita to protect her. He leaves. Ravan disguises as a priest tricks her into crossing over the salt and has time to escape before they return. The point I’m making here is that, as presented, this sequence doesn’t work. It looks like Rama should have enough time to return about five times, maybe six, before Sita is taken. There are other scenes like that too. Hanuman’s trip to the Himalayas is really abrupt.
It’s also a bit weird that there’s a musical interlude in the middle of the film where all we do is stare at a vacant screen. I don’t mind them having musical numbers but at least give us something to look at while they play. But on the subject of musical numbers, Hanuman gets a kind of weak song where he repeats that he’s Rama’s emissary for around three minutes and it’s just kind of a boring, overly repetitive number.
That being said, the film is presented in a very old fashioned epic style that works pretty well. It comes complete with great, heroic deeds, imposing trials, fallen heroes and divine intervention. I’m not sure how accurate it is to the source material, but it does have that aesthetic and it is pretty interesting.
I can’t say the characters are very complex. Rama and his people are those kind of generic, heroic characters you get in these old epics. His villains are demons who are there more to be strong imposing threats than fleshed out characters but some still get sympathetic moments. Kumbakharna when greeting Hanuman being the big example.
The monster designs are pretty interesting and the action sequences flow pretty well. It is a little weird when they show Ravan flying a plane with a dragon motif or they show monkeys in mechanical siege towers. Somehow, I don’t think that’s fully accurate to the source material. And the ordinary human characters themselves don’t have the most interesting designs. But I will credit the people who made this for picking an art style that does capture the feeling of an old epic.
The voice work is fine. They got some pretty well known Bollywood actors like Arun Govil, Amrish Puri & Namrata Sawhney. Their performances are good but there’s an unfortunate issue that crops up from time to time with the sound levels being mixed awkwardly. Which can result in a character’s speaking volume changing quite drastically from one scene to another or the sound effects overpowering the voices.
Areas of Improvement:
- Let the scenes breathe. Maybe this would result in a musical sequence or two having to be cut or just in a longer film, but it would help the pacing to have more build up in some key scenes.
- Give some visuals to go with your musical numbers. Maybe something as simple as Rama’s army preparing. You could even get away with a slide show if you had strong enough stills but when you have a five minute musical number give us something.
- The sound mixing. I think the performances would come across as much better if not for the mixing problems and that would make for a more enjoyable viewing experience.
Ramayana is not one of the best children’s films out there but it still manages to be pretty solid. If I was watching this as a kid instead of as a cynical adult, I’d probably be absolutely riveted. Still, I’ll give it a solid 7/10.